Feeling documents: toward a phenomenology of information seeking

Patrick Keilty (Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada)
Gregory Leazer (Department of Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles, California, USA)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Publication date: 14 May 2018



The purpose of this paper is to present two models of human cognition. The first narrow model concentrates on the mind as an information-processing apparatus, and interactions with information as altering thought structures and filling gaps in knowledge. A second model incorporates elements of unconsciousness, embodiment and affect. The selection of one model over the other, often done tacitly, has consequences for subsequent models of information seeking and use.


A close reading of embodied engagements with pornography guided by existential phenomenology.


The paper develops a phenomenology of information seeking, centered primarily around the work of Merleau-Ponty, to justify a more expansive concept of cognition. The authors demonstrate the roles of affect and embodiment in document assessment and use, with a prolonged example in the realm of browsing pornography.


Models of information seeking and use need to account for diverse kinds of human-document interaction, to include documents such as music, film and comics that engage the emotions or are perceived through a broader band of sensory experience to include visual and auditory components. The authors consider how those human-document engagements form virtual communities based on the similarity of their members’ affective and embodied responses, which in turn inform the arrangements, through algorithms, of the relations of documents to each other. Less instrumental forms of information seeking and use – ones that incorporate elements of embodiment and affect – are characterized as esthetic experiences, following the definition of the esthetic provided by Dewey. Ultimately the authors consider, given the ubiquity of information seeking and its rhythm in everyday life, whether we can meaningfully characterize information seeking as a distinct human process.



Keilty, P. and Leazer, G. (2018), "Feeling documents: toward a phenomenology of information seeking", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 74 No. 3, pp. 462-489. https://doi.org/10.1108/JD-09-2016-0113

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